In May 2022, the U.S. Offshore Wind Synthesis of Environmental Effects Research (SEER) project team hosted a stakeholder workshop focused on preconstruction (baseline) research needs for potential floating offshore wind (OSW) energy development on the U.S. Pacific Coast, including California, Oregon, and Washington. Prior to the workshop, the SEER team developed a set of initial synthesized research recommendations that were identified based on a review of relevant, publicly available resources and with advisory group input. The workshop covered three marine life breakout groups on subsequent days to discuss research recommendations related to 1) marine mammals and sea turtles, 2) fish and invertebrates, and 3) birds and bats.
As part of the workshop, over a hundred participants from the public and private sectors provided feedback on various aspects of the initial research recommendations, including associated data and knowledge gaps, benefits/limitations of available methods and technologies, and technological advancements or infrastructure needed to address the recommendation. Approximately 1,000 total comments were received on the workshop MURAL boards and were synthesized in this report. Key takeaways regarding the preconstruction research recommendations from each workshop breakout group are listed as follows.
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles
- Exposure and Risk Analysis. Greater baseline understanding of marine mammal and sea turtle habitat use and residency is needed to inform exposure and risk to the various potential stressors associated with floating OSW energy development. This analysis includes understanding how marine animals are using and interacting with the habitat, as well as identifying what ecological factors are influencing their behavior patterns.
- Model Development and Validation. Consideration should be given to evaluating existing baseline data, models, and prediction capabilities to help identify species and data collection priorities, with emphasis on the need for data collection to validate model outputs. Rigorous monitoring protocols will need to be in place during OSW energy development to provide the empirical data needed to reduce uncertainties in modeling the various risks.
- Autonomous Monitoring Technologies. A variety of advanced technologies and methods are needed to monitor and mitigate risks to marine mammals and sea turtles, including (1) fixed and mobile passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) as part of a regional network, (2) autonomous underwater vehicles to provide sustained offshore ecological measurements, (3) improved tags that are species-specific and have longer retention times, and (4) technologies that can help monitor and mitigate any entanglement associated with mooring lines.
Fish and Invertebrates
- Existing Data Sets and New Surveys. Information from existing data sets and surveys should be used to better understand baseline fish and invertebrate distributions, as well as seafloor conditions in areas of potential OSW energy development. Synthesizing existing data will help identify data gaps and define how to fill them, including the potential for new surveys that include expansion into unmapped areas to assess species and map seafloor habitats.
- Sampling and Data Processing Techniques. Improvements to sampling and data processing techniques will allow researchers to gather and analyze large amounts of data more effectively and/or efficiently. For example, potential areas for advancement include publishing a publicly available database of genetic sequences for relevant species to support environmental DNA analysis and developing automated image/video analysis techniques for underwater surveys.
- Modeling Approaches. Models and simulations can help predict ecological response to OSW energy development and understand dispersion and movement patterns of fish and invertebrates. In many cases, the methodology for the models already exists but needs to be applied to the specific context of OSW development in a relevant area. In particular, simulations can help understand larval transport, changes in oceanographic conditions, and other key research questions.
Bats and Birds
- Advances in Technology. Technology advancement and deployment are necessary to monitor bird and bat activity and behavior. Technologies, such as acoustic detectors, visual or thermal video cameras, lidar, radar, and global positioning systems (GPS) or radio tags are often used to monitor bird and bat activity. Near-term research activities include 1) improving existing technology to withstand the harsh offshore environment, 2) miniaturizing tracking technology for small-bodied birds and bats, 3) developing and deploying infrastructure to install monitoring technology, and 4) advancing machine-learning algorithms to efficiently process large data sets.
- Focal Species. Given the lack of baseline data for most species and the uncertainties of how species will respond to the presence of wind turbines, preconstruction monitoring should focus on a broad suite of species considered vulnerable to collision, displacement, or avoidance. Examples include species with flight heights within the rotor-swept area, those that may be potentially attracted to wind turbines, or individuals that commonly use the proposed area for development.
- Covariates. It is important to collect spatial, temporal, weather data, and other ecological factors (e.g., prey availability) associated with the presence or movement of species in an area to assess patterns of activity. These patterns may be useful in relating potential exposure species once facilities are operational.
Based on workshop feedback, SEER developed a final database of over 500 specific research recommendations based on more than 40 resources. In Fall 2022, the full database and a tool with updated synthesized research recommendations were disseminated on Tethys (https://tethys.pnnl.gov/pacific-offshore-wind-environmental-research-re…) to assist with informing future funding opportunities and research programming.
There is a continued need to improve awareness of the potential environmental effects, monitoring technologies, and management strategies for floating OSW energy development on the U.S. Pacific Coast. Coordination of these activities will require the sustained involvement of multiple stakeholders from across sectors. Beyond the baseline considerations discussed in this workshop, future state-of-the-science activities should be planned to consider research needs across wind energy life cycle phases for all relevant wildlife taxa and associated habitat and ecosystem processes.